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N4T Investigators: Thrown off track

TUCSON –  A  former member of the University of Arizona track team says he was assaulted by the coach, kicked off the team and lost his scholarship because he complained about being bullied by teammates. His attorney is threatening at $10 million lawsuit against the UA.

Michael Grabowski was an all-American long-distance runner at Smithtown West High School in Suffolk County,  N.Y.  He says he had more than 20 division one scholarship offers.

Michael’s parents moved from New York because they fell in love with Tucson during his recruiting visit, and wanted to attend his meets. “We changed our lives dramatically to be here in Tucson,” his mother, Mary Ann Stephens, told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Grawbowski says he told assistant track coaches last August that two teammates were bullying him and other team members, and directing sexual slurs at him. The 19-year old sophomore says he was summoned to a meeting last Sept. 12 with head coach Fred Harvey and other staff members.  Grabowski claims Harvey told him that he was “removed from the roster” and that his scholarship was revoked.  Grabowsky became upset, prompting an athletic trainer to call 911. The trainer told the operator that Grabowski, “had thoughts of suicide recently.”

However, Grabowski’s attorney, Bill Walker, paints a very different, and, if true, disturbing picture of what allegedly happened before that 9-1-1 call was made.  Walker’s statements are detailed in a Notice Of Claim dated March 5 and sent to the Arizona Board of Regents, threatening a $10 million lawsuit against the university, several track coaches and an associate athletics director.  The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained the Notice from someone who is not connected to the case.

Walker says being kicked off the team has “ruined Grabowski’s life.”  Walker claims the 19-year-old sophomore told assistant track coaches last summer that he and other teammates were being bullied by two-star runners on the team, that he was the target of their taunts and sexual slurs. The lawyer says one coach told Grabowski, “You can’t single out the two best runners on the team,” and that nothing was done about it.

Walker says the alleged bullying, “Was actually sanctioned, and the athletic personnel at the university  just looked the other way.”

Walker says in his claim that Grabowski was called to the McKale Center by head track Coach Fred Harvey for a meeting last September 12. Walker says Harvey told Grabowski that he was removed from the roster and his scholarship was revoked.  Grawbowski began asking questions, and Harvey, Walker says, became irate. He allegedly grabbed Grabowski by the wrists and threw him down, at which point Grabowski fainted and sustained a bloody nose.

Walker says Grabowski did not have suicidal thoughts, that police took him to Banner South because “the fall from his fainting caused significant bleeding from his nose and he had been physically assaulted”  by Harvey.

Walker said, “I’ve never known anyone in my life that tried to commit suicide by nose bleed.”

The police report says a UA psychologist and doctor requested that Grabowski go to the hospital, that he “appeared distraught” but  was “very polite and cordial.”

A UA spokesperson declined an interview request but strongly denied the allegations. In an email late this afternoon,   Chris Sigurdson confirmed that Grabowski is off the roster, but added, that he “retains a scholarship.” Sigurdson called it an “achievement grant.”  Through his attorney, Grabowski said the scholarship is only through this, his sophomore year.  On Friday, Sigurdson sent us the following statement:

“The University of Arizona is committed to ensuring every student has the ability and support to pursue the educational opportunities available at the university and takes its obligation to protect those opportunities very seriously.  In the fall of 2018, the University learned of allegations of mistreatment of a student-athlete. In accord with policy, the University initiated several inquiries, including a personnel review by the athletic department of the meeting between the athlete and the coaches and the medical team’s decision to refer the athlete to the hospital. The personnel review concluded that the coaches and staff acted appropriately. The subsequent hospital referral process was reviewed by a senior medical professional in the athletic department and was determined to have been “best practice.” Last week, the University was served with a notice of a claim regarding the events in September 2018. There is a distinct disparity between the allegations in the claim and the concerns raised last fall. This is a very unfortunate situation for all concerned. Other University investigations are in process, and we look forward to the conclusion of all ongoing reviews. We intend to strongly contest any lawsuits based on unsubstantiated allegations.”

Grabowski’s lawyer declined to let him talk on camera. But Walker said the track program’s problems are “systemic”. He pointed to the case of former assistant coach Craig Carter, serving five years in prison for a 2015 assault with a deadly weapon on a female team member.

Walker said the way to change the culture of the track program is to “Fire the coaches and fire the administrators and everyone that’s connected with the program.”

Grabowski’s mother said of the entire episode, “It’s devastating. It’s tragic. It’s horribly unfair. It’s wrong.”

The university has 60 days to respond to the Notice Of Claim. Michael Grabowski is still a student at UA, majoring in accounting. He says his grade point average last semester was 3.80.

If you have any story, you would like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz has been an investigative reporter since 1993. He specializes in reporting on corruption, fraud and scams.
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